Former Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor is a strong, unabashed supporter of Israel. When he served as House majority leader from January 2011 to August 2014 – resigning from Congress that month after suffering a stunning upset in a Virginia Republican primary – he was the highest-ranking Jewish political official in American history.
Today he is vice chairman of Moelis & Company, a global investment bank headquartered in New York. Despite his job change (he went from making $193,400 as House majority leader to a reported $3.4 million salary with the investment bank), Cantor still very much knows Israel, knows Jews, knows US politics and knows the Republican Party.
Therefore, the obvious question to ask him during a brief business-related visit he made to Israel this week – a visit during which he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – is whom Israelis should support in a potential Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump US presidential showdown in November.
“What you want to root for is a continued strong Republican majority in both the House and the Senate,” he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
, pointedly not saying that Israelis should root for the candidate likely to win his party’s nomination.
“Clearly, in coming up to the next election, people who are interested in a strong US-Israel relationship want to see that kind of leadership on Capitol Hill remain, no matter who the president is.”
One interesting aspect of his answer was the degree to which it was similar to the one given by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was also on a visit to Israel this week as head of a six-member congressional delegation touring the region.
“I’d pull for the Congress,” said Graham in a separate interview, on a different day. Graham himself was a presidential candidate in the early days of the campaign, only to drop out in December after faring poorly in opinion polls.
“One thing I can say is that the Congress has historically had Israel’s back, and that presidents come and go,” Graham said. “I’ve been pretty open that I don’t think Donald Trump is a reliable Republican conservative. I think his foreign policy is ill-conceived and would be dangerous for the entire world.” not excited about a third term of Barack Obama, and I think in many ways that is what it would represent.”
Cantor, however, has another problem with Clinton, and that has to do with what he said was the growing progressive flank of the Democratic Party – the one strongly supporting Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
Cantor said that Sanders “has been terrible in terms of his criticism of Israel,” but that was something that actually plays well with the segment of the party on the Left that he is appealing to. “My fear is that Clinton would be influenced by that, and I’d be very concerned and extremely troubled by the trend that would be impacting a Clinton presidency.”
Cantor and Graham also had very similar responses when asked what a Trump presidency would mean for Israel. Both said they had no idea.
Graham: “If you can tell me what Trump is going to do, then you should write a book.”
Cantor: “Obviously, you don’t know with Donald Trump... the uncertainty is what is troubling, you just don’t know.”
Neither Graham nor Cantor were reassured by the pro-Israel speech Trump gave last week at AIPAC, a speech that followed by just a few hours his comment that Israel should be asked to repay military aid to the US. Just a few weeks before that, the Republican front-runner said that the US should be “neutral” in trying to forge an Israeli-Palestinian deal.
“He has been very inconsistent so far in his statements about Israel,” Cantor said. “Prior to the AIPAC conference last week, he was troubling in his rhetoric. At AIPAC he demonstrated at least the ability to deliver a speech that hit all the right notes. But he has been very inconsistent.”
And Graham was even more dismissive of the AIPAC speech. It just shows he can “read a speech someone else wrote,” he said.
CANTOR, TAKING a wider view of the entire Trump phenomenon, said that while the candidate has “been doing very little in terms of policy consistency,” he has “been projecting a figure that is strong.”
And the fact that he has garnered a plurality of support despite his toxic rhetoric, the former congressman said, is a result of the “frustration and anger” these voters feel toward Obama, as well as toward the Republican leadership for its inability to meet their expectations.
Regarding whether he is concerned that the bigotry unleashed in this campaign to a degree not seen in years could ultimately – though now directed at Mexicans and Muslims – be directed at America’s Jews as well, Cantor replied that “a lot of people are concerned when there is offensive rhetoric flying around at public debates, especially when it is being delivered by somebody who is in serious consideration for the nomination. So it certainly concerns me.”
Trump, he quipped, has been an “equal opportunity” insulter with a lot of the country’s minorities.
And this, he said, is very problematic from a strictly partisan political point of view.
For the Republican Party to regain the White House at some point, it will need to be more inclusive and appeal to younger voters, minority voters, and single women voters.
Trump’s rhetoric, offensive to some minority groups, does the exact opposite.
It also is not going to help the Republicans in their efforts to gain more Jewish adherents.
Cantor said he was “struck” that even after Obama demonstrated a weak stance on Israel and foreign policy, the American Jewish community overwhelmingly voted for him.
“It is no secret that the American Jewish electorate is much more liberal than the American electorate as a whole. As conservative Republicans, we are just going to continue to try and enlist Jewish support for the things the party believes in, and one of those planks certainly is a strong national security policy and strengthening the US-Israel relationship,” he said.
Cantor said that much of the Jewish support for the Democrats has to do just with “convention and tradition,” with people voting for the party their parents and grandparents voted for.
But, he added, the social issue platform of the Democratic Party also comes into play; and for much of the American Jewish electorate, that has become an issue of priority “over and above” what he said for him, as an American Jew, is a more important issue – namely, “America’s friendship and alliance with Israel.”
Cantor was withering in his criticism of Obama’s record on Israel, and dismissed the president’s oftheard claim of having been the best president ever for Israel in terms of providing for its military and security needs.
“I know for a fact that support for those issues, such as Iron Dome, started on Capitol Hill,” he said.
“Yes, the president went along with them, but if the pressure was not there in a bipartisan way on Capitol Hill, he would not have been able, nor would he have been willing, to deliver that.”
Cantor’s suggestion for ensuring bipartisan support for Israel in Congress? Bring as many policy-makers and influential leaders to Israel as possible.
“I have always maintained that the best way to turn more people into Zionists is to have them come here to Israel,” he said. “I led many trips by members of Congress during my time there, and it did not take more than 48 hours in the country for them to become even more Zionist than Israelis. I think Israel tells its story by itself, and that is the best thing that could happen.”